Steve Magnante: Fun with Plastic in 1/25 Scale

This AMT 2010 Dodge Challenger kit builds into a sweet curbside replica of the real thing (left). The wheel standing altered wheelbase variant (right) was cobbled together one night in front of the TV. Note how the wheel openings and tires have been hop-scotched forward from their stock locations.

 

Drag racing is a game of traction. All the horsepower in the world is useless if the driving wheels spin and burn rubber while the car sits still at the starting line. Meanwhile, if the opponent doesn’t spin, he’ll be off and running with a lead you’ll never make up at the finish line.

 

Back in 1964 Chrysler Corp. radically changed the look of stock bodied drag race cars by repositioning the front and rear tires forward under the otherwise stock body shells of a fleet of four cars (two Dodges and two Plymouths). They did it again in 1965 with a larger fleet of 11 cars. The result of moving the front and rear axle centerlines was an immediate traction improvement.

 

Static front/rear weight distribution reversed from 45/55 to 55/45, and suddenly these altered wheelbase Dodge (and Plymouth) factory-sponsored drag cars were the ones to catch. A side effect of the bizarre funhouse mirror appearance of these so-called funny cars was a raft of copycats of virtually every make. By 1966, hundreds of home-brewed altered wheelbase exhibition match racers had been constructed from coast to coast, and spectators couldn’t get enough.

 

Unfortunately, by 1968 race speeds approached 200 mph, and the altered wheelbase cars proved to be unruly at top speed. So a new generation of super light funny cars consisting of fiberglass replica body shells riding atop tube steel dragster chassis took over. Riding on longer wheelbases, these flip-top fiberglass funny cars were more stable and remain with us today.

 

But in the past decade, nostalgia-minded drag race fans have shone new light and enthusiasm on the altered wheelbase phenomenon. Today, hot rodders are building modern replicas of these odd looking racers, and not only in the “real world” of metal, gasoline and oil. Plastic 1/25 scale model car enthusiasts are also getting in on the altered wheelbase game.

 

Here’s a review of some altered wheelbase model building I’ve been up to lately. Maybe you’ll get some ideas from the pictures.

 

AWB

 

Wheelbase alteration adds an element of energy and action, as if the wheels are trying to jump out ahead of the body. This particular 1/25 scale Challenger kit is a simplified “curbside” model with no engine. I cut a hole in the hood so a supercharger could be added for visual excitement.

 

AWB

 

The wheelbase alteration process is very simple. I use a thin razor saw to make my cuts then shuffle the panels around, adding fillers as needed. Fast drying cyanoacrylate glue bonds all parts together. So far nobody has built an actual (drivable) altered wheelbase Challenger. But it could be done!

 

AWB

 

Once the wheels are moved forward under the body and chassis, strategic placement of “George Washington” ballast makes the car hover on its rear tires as if it is in the middle of a starting line wheelie. Small flat spots are sliced into the rear tire tread surfaces to stabilize the car in its wheelie pose so it seems to defy gravity.

 

AWB

 

Comparing the stock (top) and modified chassis, note the relocation surgery and use of scrap box suspension bits to increase the ride height of the body. Painted detailing could be applied either before or after final assembly for added eye appeal.

 

AWB

 

When I have more time, I apply body putty to cover the surgery scars then paint the model for maximum appeal. The 1964 Dodge funny car in the foreground is a loose representation of the original Dodge altered wheelbase race cars. The driver’s side is totally stock with the standard wheelbase and conservative gray paint. I built it in 1979 to show off the altered wheelbase treatment.

 

–Steve Magnante

 


5 Comments

  • SUBLIME
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    That is pretty cool. I have got quite a collection as well.

  • epicurus
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    You’ve inspired me to go to a hobby shop and buy and built a couple.

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  • Bill Kener
    Posted December 27, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve,
    I just finished your article in Car Craft on model car building.
    Your folk art models look like fun to build.
    The statement that building model cars is going strong seems off the mark. I have been building off and on since 1958 and the golden years of building model cars in the sixty’s.
    I now belong to a model car club in St. Louis that has been around since 1974. I joined about three years ago and got back into contest quality building again. As you stated the parts available and newly retooled kits are great , but the hobby is on a serious decline.
    We have two show/contest a year with over 90 vendor tables at each and Jimmy Flintstone always shows up.
    The member ship of are club is mostly late 40’s to 80 year olds with one young man who is 15 and very talented and detail driven.

    Some of our members were at a show in Kansas recently, where they were talking with a guy from Revelll who told them that the hobby of building plastic models is on a rapid decline, as kids today are more interested in video games then building something with their own hands.

    I know there is a big movement with 3 – D printed parts which are nice, but what happened to craftsmanship and pride of building something with your own two hands.
    I have been around Hot Rodding most of my life, I started back in Wilmington Delaware where I grew up.
    We had a car club sponsored by William Du Pont who gave us a 1955 Cunningham M-25 and bunch of engines and his own serial number 006 1953 Corvette that we raced in E/MP.

    I also had the privilege of building all the molds and Composite parts for Grumpy Jenkins 72 Vega Pro Stock car along with supporting Rodger Penske’s fiberglass needs also.
    I love cars and have had the opportunity to attend some Barrett Jackson and Mecum auctions which are a blast. I enjoy your and Mike Joy’s commentary’s and seeing some great old cars.
    I hope the guy from Revell is wrong about the Model Car and Plastic models in generals decline.

One Trackback

  • By Steve Magnante: Fun with Plastic in 1/25 Scale | Bensoncdj's Blog on July 16, 2014 at 7:45 am

    […]   Drag racing is a game of traction. All the horsepower in the world is useless if the driving wheels spin and burn rubber while the car sits still at the starting line. Meanwhile, if the opponent doesnt spin, hell be off and running with a lead youll never make up at the finish line.   Back in 1964 Chrysler Corp. radically changed the look of stock bodied drag race cars by repositioning the front and rear tires forward under the otherwise stock body shells of a fleet of four cars (two Dodges and two Plymouths). They did it again Read More […]

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